Most employees are afraid of getting fired. As a result, employees are often afraid of the most senior people in organizations, simply because of their titles. The better the title, the scarier people are. And if employees are scared of organizational leaders, they’re not going to be inclined to give those leaders negative feedback. The most senior people in an organization get the least information of anyone.
No one likes to be told that he is wrong. Negative feedback tells the person he did something wrong. But there is more than one way to give feedback. Asking questions can be equally as effective as giving direct feedback.
If you want to give a senior person negative feedback, but you’re afraid of the consequences, manage up by asking more and saying less..
Here are some ways to manage up by asking questions:
Rather than saying, “I disagree, I think you’re wrong, or this is a mistake,” consider managing up by asking questions like:
- We’ve chosen to invest a lot in this software. I wasn’t here when the software was chosen. What’s the history of this initiative?
- What were the criteria for selection?
- How do you think it’s going?
- What are you concerned about?
- What are you satisfied with?
- What else have we tried?
- What are your thoughts about…?
- What if we tried…?
Asking questions gets the person involved in a discussion, during which you can eventually express your point of view. When you ask questions, you say very little, and definitely don’t call the person’s decision-making into question.
Human beings are wired for survival. Receiving negative feedback kicks the need to defend oneself into gear, hence why people become defensive when they receive negative feedback. Negative feedback calls survival into question. If you don’t want people to become defensive, don’t require them to defend themselves. A discussion, during which you ask questions, is much less threatening than overtly disagreeing with someone’s point of view.
Asking questions takes more time and more patience than giving direct feedback. But it also takes less courage, and the quality of your relationship doesn’t have to be as good. You need a pretty good relationship to give direct feedback. If you don’t have that relationship, manage up by asking questions instead of being so direct.
If you do choose to ask questions, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you aren’t really asking a question, you’re giving feedback, which is likely to evoke the defensive response you’re seeking to avoid.
It’s important to be able to express your point-of-view at work. Staying in a job or organization in which you can’t speak up, doesn’t feel great and doesn’t leverage the best of what you have to offer. But if you’re concerned about giving direct feedback, manage up by asking questions. Say less. Ask more.
Keeping with the theme of happiness and well-being during this holiday season, I’m hoping you’ll steer clear of the people and things that don’t make you feel good.
If you have a friend who talks only about herself, even after you’ve repeatedly given her this feedback, perhaps stop hanging out with her.
If you have a habit that you know isn’t in your best interest, perhaps break it.
The suggestions above are hard to do, but even harder is navigating relationships with people you can’t avoid. These are the people who when they show up on your caller ID, you often think, “not today,” and let the call go to voicemail.
Here are eight techniques for managing challenging relationships and conflict resolution in the workplace:
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #1: Know that there are difficult people in every organization. You can leave your job to get away from the person who makes you crazy. But I promise you, he will be waiting for you at the next organization in a different body.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #2: Don’t ignore challenging relationships and expect things to get better without your intervention. They won’t. Deal with strained relationships head on.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #3: Work on relationships in person or over the phone, not via email.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #4: The time to fix a relationship is when there’s nothing wrong. Have hard conversations when things in your relationship are calm and you’re not upset, otherwise the conversations are likely to quickly escalate.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #5: Give people the benefit of the doubt. People are doing the best they can. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #6: Let the other person save face. The more critical we are, the more the other person will feel compelled to defend himself. It’s almost impossible to have a useful conversation with someone who is in defense mode.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #7: Ask for what you want. Rather than telling people everything they do wrong, make requests. That could sound something like, “Would you be willing to talk with me directly when my team is frustrating your team? I’ll do everything I can to make things right.” Or, “If you need something from me that you’re not getting, will you give me a call? I’d rather hear about challenges directly from you than from someone else.”
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #8: Be vulnerable. If you want a better relationship with someone, tell her. If a relationship is strained or broken, chances are, the other person knows. You could say something like, “I think we both know this relationship is strained. I want you to know that I’d really like a good working relationship with you. If you’d like to get together for lunch or coffee and talk about what has gone on, I’d really like that. Perhaps we can start in a new way.”
If you don’t want to be that direct, perhaps considering saying something like, “I just want you to know that I really want a good working relationship with you. What can I do to ensure you and your department get what you need from me? What’s one change I can make that would make the biggest difference for you?”
Damaged and strained relationships won’t get better without your intervention. Ask for what you want. Be positive, be yourself, and be honest. And if the person doesn’t play ball with you, you’ll know that you’ve done what you can.
Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should.
There can be too much candor and feedback.
A few guidelines to consider before giving feedback:
- Ask yourself, was the feedback solicited? Unsolicited feedback rarely goes over well.
- Assess if you have the relationship to give feedback. I’m offered all sorts of feedback from people I don’t even know. People I don’t know haven’t earned the right to give me feedback.
- Determine if you’re trying to strengthen the person or the relationship. If you aren’t trying to help someone improve, AND the feedback isn’t requested, AND you don’t have the rapport to give feedback, say nothing.
Feedback recipients don’t have to accept unsolicited input or advice. It’s perfectly acceptable to put limits and boundaries on the input you’re open to from peers, friends and family.
Here are two tips for how to handle negative feedback:
How to handle negative feedback tip one:
When you ask for feedback, be very specific about what type of feedback you want.
For example, you could say something like, “We’re picking a new software application to track leads. I’ve already narrowed the choice down to three vendors and vetted what each software application can and can’t do. I want to know about things I may not be aware of, like software that’s being phased out and won’t be supported and potential bankruptcies.”
There’s nothing wrong with asking for targeted feedback. Simply tell people what kind of feedback you want and why. And avoid asking open ended questions like, “What do you think?” If you ask a broad question, you’ll likely get a broad answer.
How to handle negative feedback tip two:
Tell people if you aren’t looking for feedback.
For example, you could say something like, “Thank you so much for your concern. I really appreciate it. I’m actually not looking for feedback at this time. But I really appreciate your concern.”
There’s NOTHING wrong with setting limits and boundaries about what kind of input you’re seeking. And when you do set those limits, intrusive people will think twice before offering unsolicited advice in the future.
When leaving a job, the late nights and all-consuming projects quickly become history. What we take with us, are the people we worked with and the friendships we formed.
Much of what contributes to job satisfaction or dissatisfaction are our workplace relationships. “I just can’t work with this person. We don’t see eye to eye. We can’t get along,” are the types of challenges that often motivate people to job hunt.
I’m a believer that suffering at work is optional. You deserve and can have a job doing work you love, with people you enjoy. If your workplace relationships are strained, there are several things you can do to improve them.
Four steps to improve workplace relationships:
1. Make a list of the people you need a good working relationship with.
2. If you’re not sure who you need to work well with, ask your boss, peers, and internal customers. They know.
3. Ensure you know what your internal customers are expecting from you. Ask what a good job looks like, how they’re evaluating your results, and how they like to communicate.
4. Tell people you’re struggling with, “I think we both know this relationship is strained. I’d really like a good working relationship with you. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has gone on, and perhaps start in a different way?”
Fixing a broken relationship needs to be a phone or in-person conversation. Sending someone an email, telling him you want a good working relationship, won’t do the job.
Damaged workplace relationships can be fixed. We often don’t know what the other person is really upset about. We may think we know or assume, but may be surprised when we have the conversation.
You spend way too much time at work not to enjoy the people you work with. Don’t assume strained relationships will remain strained. Identify who is most important to your success, tell those people you want a good working relationship, and then ask questions to learn what they are expecting from you. Good relationships don’t just happen.
You have more influence over your relationships than you may think. Don’t accept the status quo. Suffering is optional.
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I love Halloween. What’s not to like? It’s the one day of the year adults are sanctioned to dress up, act silly, and eat a lot of candy. And I like Halloween at work. Dressing up and trick or treating from cubicle to cubicle makes work more fun, albeit relatively unproductive.
If you’re coming to work in costume on Halloween, have fun, but remember that you’re still at work. Like your company’s holiday party, anything you wear will likely be remembered, talked about, and photographed. And regardless of your company’s social media policy, those photos will go somewhere. If you don’t want a photo of yourself in costume online or on your company’s intranet site, wear something else.
A few guidelines for Halloween costumes for work:
- Don’t show a lot of skin – cleavage at work is a no-no
- Short, tight skirts, even on Halloween, are also not the best choice
- If an outfit is tight or very fitted and doesn’t leave much to the imagination, it’s not appropriate for work
Here are a few examples of appropriate Halloween costumes for work:
We appreciate the nod to the film Office Space, which should be required viewing for everyone with a job.
The costumes above may not be the most exciting, but they won’t get you labeled as having bad judgment, nor will you be the topic of discussion, in a bad way, on Monday.
Here are a few examples of Halloween costumes at work that would be better left at home.
Scantily Clad Loofah
Halloween costumes for work can and should be fun. Just remember, people talk.
Add a comment to the blog about the most inappropriate costume you’ve seen at work, and we’ll enter you in a contest to win an item of your choosing from our shop. ** Excludes training videos, kits and performance management tools.
If you were on a diet and stepped on a scale that said, “Pretty good. Keep up the good work,” you’d return the scale, claiming it didn’t work. Likewise, if your GPS told you that it “seemed you were going the right way,” you’d probably use a different app, or heaven forbid, buy a map. Scales and GPS provide us with feedback, but vague feedback is unhelpful. It doesn’t tell us what to do more, better, or differently, which is the purpose of feedback.
Vague, positive feedback is also inauthentic, and inauthenticity smells. Hearing you did a great job is nice, but utterly unhelpful because the feedback recipient doesn’t know what he did well and what to replicate. If you want people to replicate a behavior, tell them precisely what they did well that you want them to do again.
Most feedback training focuses on giving negative feedback, because it’s so hard to do, but we’re not much better at giving positive feedback. Giving useful, positive feedback takes attention, observation, and timely communication. In short, it’s difficult.
I too find myself telling my team members, “You did a great job on…” I know vague words like these serve as a short pick-me-up. My team probably smiles and appreciates the recognition, but I also know I haven’t given them substantive direction of what actions I want them to replicate. Those of you who have participated in feedback training with me know that I call vague input Cap’n Crunch – all of the sweetness, with none of the nutrients.
To give effective, positive feedback, simply state one or more specific actions you want the person to replicate.
Here are a few examples of positive feedback:
Cap’n Crunch: “You did a great job on……”
Example of positive feedback: “You did a great job onboarding our new analyst. You outlined what he needed to do during his first 90-days to be successful. He now knows precisely what he has to do and won’t have to guess.”
Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for being so committed to our business.”
Example of positive feedback: “Thanks for calling in to today’s team meeting on a day you had off. Your participation helped us make a decision that would have taken much longer without your participation. I appreciate your commitment to our business.”
Cap’n Crunch: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace.” This is not terrible, but not as effective as it could be.
Example of positive feedback: “Thanks for paying attention to the things that may impact us negatively in the marketplace. I appreciate you tracking the new products our competitors are launching. It helps me know where we are ahead and behind.”
Don’t assume people know what they did well and that they will replicate positive behavior without receiving positive feedback. Watch people’s actions and tell them, shortly after they do something, what they did well. And watch those positive behaviors be repeated.
You’re more likely to get an email or text message with emoticons at work than a phone call or an in-person visit. Email, text messages, and instant messenger have become the primary modes of communication in most workplaces. And as we know, it’s difficult to manage tone of voice in written communication. Not wanting to sound angry or demanding, we add emoticons at work so the reader doesn’t misinterpret our message.
I believe email and text messages are overused. But I know most people won’t pick up the phone as often as they could or should. So instead of recommending that you pick up the phone more frequently, I’ll suggest you give people the benefit of the doubt, and make it a general rule not to take things personally.
If you’ve seen me teach how to give feedback or have read How to Say Anything to Anyone, you know I believe that one of the keys to being able to tell the truth, is to ask for and gain permission to do so. What would happen if everyone in your workplace assumed that every email had a positive tone and that if something is a problem or a big deal, people will talk to you live? What if you made a deal that people won’t take emails or text messages personally?
When I teach feedback, I tell people not to give feedback via email and to instead talk with people. And we can’t always do that. Sometimes we need email to ensure feedback is timely. But email recipients are often hurt by the implied tone of an email or the brevity of a text message. Intended meanings are often misconstrued, feelings are hurt, and relationships are damaged, hence why we add emoticons at work.
There is a lot written on the value of emoticons at work and how we need to embrace the change in the way we communicate. I just wish we didn’t need emoticons at work. I wish, instead, we thought, “I trust you and assume good. I know that if you’re annoyed with me, you’ll tell me, because we’ve built a relationship in which we deal with challenges overtly, as they happen.” And perhaps I’m living on another planet – the planet of utopic candor. But the aforementioned are my goals. It’s why I do the work I do at Candid Culture. I envision workplaces in which we assume good and ask questions if we don’t. Do you?
How many times have you been sitting at your desk wondering, “Why won’t he ___________ ?’ Perplexed, you talk with your buddy at work. The conversation goes something like, “I’ve got this person, and I can’t figure out why he won’t ______________.” Or perhaps you talked directly to the person, but after several conversations, he still hasn’t done what you asked him to do.
There are four reasons for a lack of employee performance and why people don’t do what you want them to do:
- They don’t know how.
- They don’t think they know how.
- They can’t.
- They don’t want to.
Reason number one for a lack of employee performance, they don’t know how, is the easiest to solve. People who don’t know how to do something need training, coaching, a mentor, a job aid or some other form of instruction. The hope is that with the right training and exposure, he will be able to do what you’re asking.
Reason number two for a lack of employee performance, they don’t think they know how, can be improved over time with patience and consistent coaching. You aren’t working with clean slates. Most people are recovering from or reacting to a past relationship or situation. If a person worked for a controlling manager who never let him make a decision or worked for someone who invoked punitive consequences for making mistakes, the person will be hesitant to make decisions. Hence why he does drive-bys on you, repeatedly checking in, but never pulling the trigger on anything.
If you work with someone who doesn’t think he knows what to do, but you know that he has the answer, encourage him to trust himself. When he comes to you for validation or approval, ask questions, don’t give answers. Tell the person you trust his judgment and encourage risk taking. Tell him that you’ll support his decision, even if it proves to be the wrong one. And encourage him to make the decision next time without consulting you. And then keep your word. If he makes the wrong call, you have to have his back and can’t invoke negative consequences.
Reason number three for a lack of employee performance, they can’t, is challenging but clear-cut. People who can’t do a task their brains aren’t wired for, will never do that responsibility well, regardless how much coaching, training, and assistance you provide. If you have repeatedly AND EFFECTIVELY, coached, trained, and provided support, remove that responsibility and give the person something he can do well. If that responsibility is a large part of the job, you have someone in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change.
Reason number four for a lack of employee performance, they don’t want to, is annoying but manageable. There are lots of reasons people don’t do things they don’t want to do. Those reasons include, but aren’t limited to, boredom, lack of buy-in as to why something is important, insufficient time, feeling like a task is beneath them, etc. If you’ve got someone who can but doesn’t want to do something, you can either take the responsibility away, incent him to do it, or give feedback EVERY TIME the task doesn’t get done.
Giving negative feedback isn’t fun for the giver or the receiver. No one wants to hear that he isn’t meeting expectations and most people don’t want to tell him. But the discomfort of receiving negative feedback EVERY TIME the person doesn’t do what he needs to do will create behavior change. He will either begin doing what you ask, quit, or ask for a transfer. Either way, your problem is solved.
The first step in getting people to do what you want them to do is to discover why they’re not doing what you ask. It’s impossible to appropriately manage employee performance if you don’t know why someone isn’t doing what he needs to do. And the person to ask why a responsibility isn’t getting done isn’t you or your buddy, it’s the person not doing the work. So get out of your head, leave your office, and go talk to the person not doing the work.
Here’s how to start an employee performance conversation:
“I’ve noticed you’re not doing ___________. Help me understand what’s happening.” Watch your tone, inquire from a place of genuine curiosity, and identify the reason he isn’t doing what he needs to do. Then you can intervene appropriately and hopefully get what you want.
What to say about September 11th, this year, didn’t come to me until I was standing in front of a client’s leaders, talking with them about retaining employees and what they could do to become an even better place to work.
Their office isn’t too far from Shankesville, PA, where flight 93 crashed on September 11th, so they seemed like the right group with whom to share my story. Then I decided that perhaps I should share it with you too.
I bought my first house in Denver in 1999 and went on vacation shortly after closing on the house. Right before I left, my manager told me he had too many direct reports and was putting a layer between us. I’d have a new boss when I came back from my vacation.
Two weeks later, I returned to my new manager and found her to be defensive, paranoid, and irrational – in short, impossible to work with. I did everything I knew to work well with her, calling on our HR department and the EAP counseling available to me, for help. Despite that I led communication skills training for the company and taught conflict resolution, I couldn’t work with her, and let my old boss know I’d be leaving.
I suspect he already knew my new boss wasn’t going to work out (I wasn’t the only person struggling to work with her), and offered me a position in our New York office. He told me that if after 90-days I wanted to return to Denver, I could. Ninety-days in New York with all my expenses paid or unemployment with no plan? The choice was clear. I went to New York and moved into my office in Tower Two of the World Trade Center, where I worked on September 11th.
I’m not proud of uprooting my whole life for a manager I couldn’t work with, and it’s not something I recommend others do. But it does demonstrate the difference one person can make. I never actually lived in that first house I bought. I accepted a permanent job in New York, but wasn’t ready to let go of my life in Denver. So I struggled with the decision of whether to stay in New York or return to Denver, for three years.
It’s normal to question our purpose and wonder if we make a difference. If you ask these questions, consider all the people you work with on a daily basis and how you impact their daily lives. We spend a huge portion of our existence at work, and how we interact with coworkers, customers, direct reports, and vendors impacts their happiness, or lack thereof, in a big way.
Don’t underestimate the difference you make when you smile at someone in the hallway at work, or don’t. When you thank someone for making your job easier, or don’t. When you take the time to teach someone a quicker way to do something, saving him countless of hours, or don’t. Regardless of your title and position in your organization, you impact the people around you in a huge way, every day.
During last week’s training in Pennsylvania, I talked about the four things essential to retaining employees.
Retaining employees –the four things employees need to be satisfied and engaged at work:
- I trust the leaders who run this organization.
- My opinion means something. I am listened to.
- I feel respected (by my manager). We have a good working relationship.
- My work is challenging and interesting. My career is going somewhere here.
If you’re a manager working on retaining employees, spend time with your employees. Ask questions about their career goals. Take the time to coach and give feedback. If you’re a senior leader committed to retaining employees, be visible. Walk around your office(s), addressing employees by name, and asking about their daily work. And if you’re not in a position of leadership, be easy to work with by keeping your commitments, being a short cut and providing information when you can, and offering to help employees who are overwhelmed. Retaining employees is not just a manager’s job. Every person we work with impacts our daily lives more than we know.
Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.
Here are four techniques for how to say no:
- Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”
Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about his request.
2. Tell the person you need some time to think about his request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.
3. Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
4. Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell him what you’re willing to do.
How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.
Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and will do a great job?”
Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something. They just want to know if we will do it.
How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.
Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”
How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.
Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”
A review of how to say no:
- Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
- Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
- Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
- Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
- Keep your commitments.
Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.